Recommend -someone else- a Marx brothers movie

Okay, as a kid, and even a young adult, I loved the Marx brothers. I even loved their bad movies. Time has marched on, and I want to introduce some of my friends to the creme de la creme of commedy. Problem is, while I remember that some of the movies are bad, I don’t remember which ones they are.
Can someone with better GrouchoKnowledge [tm] steer me in the right direction for flicks my non-Marxist friends might like?

Your best bets are the three final Paramount films, Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933). These are the most appealing to contemporary comic sensibilities and the modern Anarchic spirit.

The first two, The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930), contain lots of good stuff, but are rather stiff and stagey (seeing as their first incarnations were Broadway shows).

The first two MGM pictures, A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races(1937), were once considered the creme de la creme – but the boring romantic subplots and extended musical sequences make them less palatable today than the three aforementioned Paramount classics. Nonetheless, there are many classic comedy scenes in them.

Everything made after Races is from hunger. There might be a good scene here or there, but the quality drop-off is dispiriting.

What Ukulele Ike said.

I watched Monkey Business at New Years for the first time in years and I laughed my butt off. Very funny stuff. For your kids, I’d show them Monkey Business and Duck Soup. Those two are pretty much perfect.

Ike is right. The first three he mentioned are pretty much quintessential Marx. If they don’t like Duck Soup, they probably won’t like any of their other movies.

Agree with Ike except that Day at the Races is much worse than that. Night at the Opera has several of the best scenes in the history of movies but they are spaced around a plot structure that the three previous movies jettisoned.

Just to throw this out in a friendly thread:

The Library of America just put out Kaufman & Co., a collection of scripts for seven plays that George S. Kaufman collaborated on. Animal Crackers is one of them. The movie version turns out to stick fairly close to the first four of six scenes, but the fifth scene is a musical number designed to allow them to change sets and the last scene is a costume ball entirely omitted from the film. After reading it, not hard to understand why.

I’d disagree. Room Service is a very funny film – it’s just not a Marx Brothers film (even though they’re in it).

A Night in Casablanca is also quite good – maybe up to their early Paramounts.

Yeah, but Harpo wears his hair curled (as opposed to his fright wig).

Enough to curl one’s hair.

Okay, the final musical number (“It’s Gideon!”) is cringe-making. But the scene where Harpo and Chico “rescue” Groucho from the blonde bimbo is very much worth seeing.

“…Thenk yew”


I meant “It’s Gabriel!”

I’ll definately give that a shot, although… They’re not kids. One of 'em is 7 years older than I am! :smiley:

Yes, that’s classic. Along with Margaret Dumont’s ‘check-up’ and some other scenes. But the ending is pretty painful. Can’t go wrong with Duck Soup, and despite the singing there are so many great bits in A Night at the Opera.

I don’t care what anyone else says A Night at the Opera is the * ceme de la creme* of Marx Brothers movies. Judging from the commentary on the recent DVD release, the Marx Brothers thought so, too.

You can keep A Day at the Races, as far as I’m concerned. From there on out, I follow the order Uke gave.

Between the Stateroom scene and the post-Russian Aviator scene (“Am I CRAZY or are there three beds in here?” – “Which question do you want me to answer first, Henderson?”), and about six others, I’d tend to agree with you.

But in terms of the comic flow, I’d opt for Duck Soup. Speaking as a father who watched his kids collapsing in hysterics during DS, and wandering off to find the GameBoys during ANATO.

I’m sure the Marxes thought so. And it’s a better-constructed movie, with less insanity. Which is why they (and Thalberg) liked it better, and a lot of the fans don’t. I rate it a close second.

And my alarm clock is set for eight. :smiley:

I think it’s pretty clear that Harpo’s wearing a wig in the film. Stills of it always gave me the impression that he was bald.

I’d suggest taking them in strictly chronological order. This has the advantage of giving you some idea of what their stage shows must have been like (the first two are pretty much filmed versions of the shows) and building up to the better ones. You’ll also see how their style changed and improved over time.

If you start with Duck Soup or Animal Crackers (my two favorites), the rest will pale by comparison, and you may be a little disappointed.

Also, I’d recommend not rushing through them all at once. Take your time. Spread them out over weeks or months. I had seen all of them many times as a teenager, except Animal Crackers, which had been tied up in litigation and not broadcast on TV for years (this was in the 1970s before home video). Then it was released, so I got to see a “brand new” Marx Brothers film when I was in my twenties. It was great!

I think it depends on what other movies the person likes. If he or she loves, say, Monty Python, and lots of pure verbal humor, Duck Soup is far the best. If they are not quite into that much anarchy, then ANATO would be best. I’m not surprised the Marxes liked that one best, it made them the most money, and got the most attention from their new studio, while DS was ahead of its time and a flop. I like DS the best myself, followed closely by the Perelman ones (MB and HF).

I’d love to have seen the stage show. There is a story that Kaufman was in the wings at Coconuts one day when someone tried to catch his attention. “Shh,” he said, “I think I heard one of my lines.” There appears to have been a lot of ad libbing going on.

I’d also agree with Ike. Also, I would recommend having the fast forward button ready for whenever Harpo plays his harp.

:eek: :eek:

Well, there’s no accounting for taste :wink: . I must be the only Marx Brothers fan in the world who thinks that Duck Soup is weakened by the fact it doesn’t have Harpo and Chico playing their solos. OK, it’s still one of the greatest movies of all time (“Help wanted!”), but it just isn’t the same without that look on Harpo’s face as he plays those strings, and Chico shooting the keys.

As for the OP question - I personally think that Monkey Business is the best balanced and paced of all their films, and is probably a great introduction for someone who hasn’t seen any of their films. It will help if they have already seen some vintage comedies. Next, I’d find out what they liked about MB (assuming they did), and then choose the follow up based on that.

It’s also a fact that even their so called ‘weaker’ movies have some memorable, great scenes - who can forget the ten dollar bill in ‘Go West’, or the cigar scene in ‘At the Circus’? I also think that A Night In Casablanca is greatly underrated - it’s more watchable than their previous few movies.

Anyway, this is the order that I would play it for someone who was very much like me:

  1. Monkey Business
  2. Duck Soup
  3. Horse Feathers
  4. Animal Crackers
  5. A Night at the Opera
  6. Room Service (who cares if it wasn’t written for them - it’s still full of laughs!)
  7. A Night in Casablanca
  8. Coconuts
  9. If you get them this far, you can show them the rest, as well as pulling out some of their radio shows, etc, cause they’re probably hooked by now!


I only wish we had got to see the early 1960s project between the brothers and Billy Wilder that Wilder and IAL Diamond were developing. Now that would have been something.